Aleksandr Dissan: A Queer and charitable S-P-I-R-I-T

Aleksandr Dissan: A Queer and charitable S-P-I-R-I-T

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With all the disheartening news streaming 24/7, its time for a little pick-me-up, and who did I call to give that to us, Philly Cheer Elite. They’ll not only pick you up, they’ll toss you in the air and do a spin.

Founded in April 2019, Cheer Elite’s vision and mission involves inspiring love, awareness and unity in the LGBTQ community and to utilize cheerleading and “use cheerleading, dance and volunteerism to inspire the community through charitable contributions to organizations assisting our communities.”

With a large group of LGBTQ community members and allies, the group is committed to celebrating queerness and supporting organizations that care for our community. So let’s make a little noise for founder and head cheerleader Aleksandr Dissan. 

PGN: What made you want to celebrate being queer?
AD: I’m from Los Angeles, and I used to cheer with an LGBT-plus team there. For me, we can change the environment around us just by being who we are and showing our pride. I mean, who doesn’t love cheerleaders?

PGN: I know I do! When my nephew came out to me, I was the biggest cheerleader of all. I told him, “It’s great being gay! We have our own clubs; we have our own magazines and newspapers. We have movies and music and campgrounds. We even have our own parades!”
AD: Yes, it’s so important to have things that are ours exclusively, safe spaces. And with the cheer team, we feel like we’re doing good in the community. We want to support and encourage the groups and people who have lifted this community for so many years and spread joy.

PGN: I understand that you’re originally a California boy?
AD: Yes, Huntington Beach. Well, I was originally born in France. We moved to California when I was 10 years old. So it was definitely life changing getting used to a whole different culture. Coming from France, being gay wasn't a big deal. You weren’t treated like, “Ew, you’re gay,” you were just another person who happened to be gay. Not the same here, so I had to find my own way, and I found cheerleading at a young age. I was a gymnast first and then started cheer. It became my obsession and I’ve been doing it ever since.

PGN: So you spent your formative years in France. Were you in the city?
AD: I grew up in Nice, which is in the French Riviera on the coast of France at the Mediterranean Sea; so I went from beaches in Nice to beaches in California.  

PGN: I’d guess the beaches in Nice were a little nicer.
AD: Oh, 100 percent. It’s nicknamed “La Belle” meaning “the beautiful,” and it was, but I have to say, I do love my beaches in Laguna Beach.

PGN: When did you come out?
AD: Well, I’ve always known I was gay, but I think I officially came out at 12. In France, there wasn’t a need to label it, but here everyone’s into titles. I told my mother, and it didn’t go over too well. She’s actually from a small farm town in Mexico and was very religious.

PGN: Wait, how did we go from Mexico to France to LA?
AD:[Laughing] I call myself a Frenchxican. My mother is Mexican, and she met my father, who is French, in California. They married and moved to his hometown in France. After they divorced, we moved back to LA where she raised us as a single parent. She is a Seventh Day Adventist, and they’re pretty hardcore and closed-minded. Her response when I came out was, “You’re gay? Well, let me go put some lipstick on you!” I was like, “What? No, that’s not what it means!” Then she grabbed a poster she had of some singer she was crazy about and said, “So I guess you love him too!” and I had to say, “Uh no, we have different tastes in men.” So we then went into a don’t-ask-don’t-tell mode for a few years until I got tired of it and came out again at 18, and this time she threw me out. So I got a job and went to college on my own and still tried to reach out to her because, you know, she’s still my mother. She finally kind of came around to the idea of me being gay but just didn’t want to see it. So we had a sort of truce, and I moved back home for a minute, but then I got a job at a hotel in Las Vegas and was able to move out again. I stayed there for a few years and then became a flight attendant about five years ago, which I’m still doing today. It brought me to New York and now Philly, and I’m loving it! 

PGN: Fabulous! What school did you go to?
AD: Well, my father went to USC, so I went to UCLA. [Laughing] I took it to the man! 

PGN: With multicultural parents do you speak any other languages?
AD: I speak six languages: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and American Sign Language. My little brother is hard of hearing, so I learned ASL. There’s also a big Deaf LGBT community in Philadelphia that I’ve gotten involved with; they’re amazing. 

PGN: How many siblings do you have?
AD: I have four brothers. My poor mother, it’s not that she hates us, but she’s just always wanted a daughter, and she kept pushing out boys. She’s said, “I love you guys, but I really would like at least one girl!” But no, not even a grandchild. My older brother has two sons, and his wife just found out she’s pregnant with another boy! 

PGN: Let’s go to the friendly skies, I saw you in a video about the secrets of flight attendants…?
AD: Oh my gosh, you saw that. No! Don’t judge me. I got roped into doing that after a long flight from Brazil. I was exhausted and looked haggard. It was fun though.

PGN: So tell me a secret.
AD: Don’t drink anything made with onboard hot water in it — coffee, tea — just say no. And don’t walk around the plane barefoot, it’s just gross. For you and us. 

PGN: What’s the craziest thing you’ve encountered?
AD: Nothing really outrageous, I have been blessed with a booty and for some reason straight women seem to think it’s OK to grab or slap my butt, so I have to stop and explain that it’s not okay to touch or grab me just because I’m your gay pal. People in general just lose their common sense when they’re traveling.

PGN: What’s your best celebrity encounter?
AD: Oh my gosh, I met…well, I’ve met a lot of people, but the best was my idol, Gal Gadot. You may know her as Wonder Woman. I’m literally in love with her, so to have her on my flight, I went crazy. That woman was even more beautiful in person than on the screen, and she wasn't even done up. It was a redeye, so she was totally casua, and still, she was perfection! Part of me has to hate her for it, but she’s a true goddess and the sweetest person I’ve ever met. She was in first class, and I was working business and the purser was kind of mean and wouldn’t let me even slip into first class to take a peek at her. I was dying. How could I be on the same plane  as Gal Gadot and not even have a chance to see her? Then they asked me to bring some plates to the front. I knew they wanted a stack but purposely only took a few so that I’d have to make a few trips. On the first trip, as I went past her, I glanced down and whispered, “I love you!” On the way back from the second trip, Gal Gadot grabbed my hand. My heart dropped, literally. I thought I was going to faint. I was speechless, and I don’t usually get star struck, we get a lot of celebrities on board, but she’s just…everything. Anyway, I ended up helping her with her cell phone, and then when the purser came over, she tried to embarrass me by saying, “He’s such a big fan, he said he loved you in Superwoman!” You should have seen the stare that I gave her, like, “Superwoman! Really? How dare you insult Gal Gadot!” But she was so sweet, she just turned to me and said, “Don’t worry, I understood.” Then she put her arm around me and said, “We’ll take a picture now” and made the purser take about five pictures of us! I was done from that moment on. 

PGN: That’s amazing! Now to the cheer team — who comes up with the cheers?
AD: That’s pretty much me. I just founded the team in April, and we’ve been going strong ever since. We started out with five people, and now we have 23. Right now, I do the dance choreography, come up with the cheers; I designed the uniforms and logo and do all the social media. We’re now an official nonprofit too. We performed at the Pride parade in Philly; we did the New Hope Pride parade; we were at both the gay pride and the trans pride flag raising events at City Hall, and the Franklin Institute invited us to their first Family Pride day and the pride after hour events in June. Family Pride day was incredible. We worked with the kids and taught them tumbling and cheers. We’ve just been so honored that so many organizations have invited us to participate in their events. We’ve accomplished a lot in three months. There’s been so much interest that we’re holding new clinics and tryouts this month.

PGN: Do you have to be able to do full splits and double summersaults in the air to participate?
AD: No, no. We have all skill levels; we want to be very inclusive. We do the clinics to give people a chance to check it out and get their feet wet and for us to get a feel for them. We’re more looking for people who fit with the group’s spirit and attitude. I call the group a family. We’re a family of volunteers and first and foremost, we’re a nonprofit. For me, I want people who bring a positive attitude and can get along with others. When we all love each other and are having fun, everyone will want to work hard and do what it takes to become the cheer team we want to be: a team that can spread love and encouragement to people in the LGBT community. 

PGN: Speaking of love, do you have a significant other?
AD: Yes I do. His name is Austin, and he’s phenomenal. Since the day we met, we’ve been inseparable. Well, except for the time I spend away for work. [Laughing] That probably helps because it gives it a chance to miss each other, and he works from home doing computer tech stuff, which is cool because when I have international flights, he can come with me if he wants. All he needs is Wi-Fi and he can work anywhere. It’s great. 

PGN: I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up your acting career.
AD: Oh God! Where are you finding this? I wouldn’t call that acting; it was awful acting, awful everything. I was really young and had been doing some modeling. This director messaged me and said that he liked my look and wanted me to audition for a role, and I mean who wouldn’t want to be flown out to become an actor. They had a decent budget at the start, and he was making six films, but as time went on, he started losing the finances, which resulted in people quitting or not doing their jobs properly. But I’m the kind of person if I start something, I’m going to finish it. He was really nice too but super stressed as things were falling apart. By the end, I was also kind of just walking through it. He didn’t finish the films but joined pieces from each movie to make one film, so it was really disjointed. You can’t really tell what’s going on, but kudos for him to making something out it. I just wouldn't recommend watching it! 

PGN: Most people are afraid of flying, what’s your biggest fear?
AD: Leaving this world without making a difference. I’ve had a few close family members die in the past year, and it woke me up. I knew I needed to do something to bring some good into the world before it’s too late. It’s why I started the nonprofit, Philly Cheer Elite, to cheer on the good in the world!


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